Half a million women and children set to benefit from sustainable energy solutions
Renewable energy initiatives are set to transform health facilities and surrounding communities in rural Zimbabwe
UNICEF, The Ministry of Health and Childcare (MoHCC), with support from the Government of Sweden and the Health Development Fund (supported by the UK, Sweden, Ireland, EU and Gavi), is implementing the Sustainable Energy for Health Facilities and Surrounding Communities Programme (SE4HF).
The initiative targets four districts in Zimbabwe: Chipinge and Chimanimani in Manicaland Province along with Gokwe North and South in Midlands Province.
These districts were selected based on assessments conducted by UNICEF in consultation with the relevant authorities, mapping out communities that require alternative energy sources. The goal is to improve the health of women and children in vulnerable communities through the provision of sustainable energy solutions at health facilities.
The SE4HF is anchored on two community transforming interventions. The first of which is Solar 4 Health. A total of 30 health facilities in the targeted districts will benefit from solar system installations, sustaining the cold chain for vaccination, and improving the general conditions of certain facilities such as the expectant mothers’ waiting shelters.
While some of the clinics in Manicaland and Midlands are connected to the National grid, the electricity supply is unreliable. Health workers say the situation worsens during the rainy season.
“Our area is highly mountainous. During the rainy season, trees fall on electricity power lines. We sometimes go up to a month before the engineers fix the problem,” explains Tapiwa Zuze, the nurse-in-charge at Muchadziya Clinic located in Chimanini District. He adds that sometimes the roads are blocked, making it challenging for technical electricity faults to be fixed within a reasonable time. “With the solar systems installed, we are in a position to provide round-the-clock health services,” he concludes.
Indeed, sustainable energy systems are critical in improving access to quality health services in rural areas. For instance, maternity wards become too cold for mothers and their newborns during power cuts. The programme is providing alternative power sources to ensure warmth for mother and baby.
In addition, the sustainable power supply will sustain the cold chain for vaccinations and other refrigerated medicines and commodities.
Health facilities such as Jahana Clinic in Gokwe South District have already benefitted from the solar systems installations. The facility is already showing a steady increase in the number of births occurring at facilities rather than home-based deliveries. The rural health centre also boasts of significant uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine at night now that there is electricity.
Surrounding communities will further benefit from the energy-saving cookstove initiative. This project seeks to provide an alternative cooking solution that protects the environment while encouraging financial freedom for women in the district.
According to the Zimbabwe Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2019 report, 73.9% of households use solid fuels as the primary source of domestic energy to cook. There has been an increase in incidences of school children missing classes in rural schools after having to fetch fuelwood. Responses from the children included in the “Children and Climate Change in Zimbabwe” study indicated that 50% of the children from rural areas and 40% in urban areas assisted their families in collecting firewood. The programme is transforming the lives of these children by providing an environmentally friendly alternative.
In Gokwe, over 450 men and women have been trained in cookstove making, providing an opportunity to improve their household income.
The SE4HF is a community-driven initiative and will ensure the integration of community systems in finding sustainable energy solutions for the vulnerable people of Manicaland and the Midlands.